When your friends can't keep up, and they end up boring you because they can't play
Late last spring I drove back to Denver to get a few things done and visit friends. One of the stops I made was to see long-time buddies who live at altitude. They've been there for four decades, and have lived in Colorado almost as long as I have. Around them are endless hills, some quite steep.
Delia is a botanist, and she spends a lot of time in those mountains finding and identifying all kinds of plants. She reports her findings to the state, which is pleased to get scientific monitoring from a pro. She spends a lot of time walking and hiking in the high country, as does her husband.
They're a year younger than I am at 67. Long accustomed to high country, hikes and long walks on difficult, uneven ground, they like the effort. When friends come to visit, or Kevin's friends and family show up from low country, most can't make it up a single hill. That means that most social time is in the house, where people not only feel comfortable, but they don't embarrass themselves in front of Delia and Kevin.
When I visited in June, we did a number of hikes. The first time the three of us went out together, I spent a fair bit of time scrambling up and down the hills.
Sounding annoyed, Delia commented on my ability to negotiate the high country better than they could. Not my intention; I've been training in high country for years and only recently moved to Oregon. I've lost little of my conditioning for being in high, thin air and was enjoying tracking the moose whose wide tracks wandered through the aspens.
She clearly likes being able to demonstrate a certain physical superiority for others her age and older. I can understand that; it feels good at some level to show off. She's used to being the only one who can lead the group, as she is out more than her husband. It irritated her a bit that I could not only keep up but was clearly in better shape. I get it, but it's silly.
Who is in better shape isn't the point. This isn't a competition. It's that we could be out hiking in high country in the first place, all three of us closing in on seventy. That's the point. Because people who love being outside, being active, live very different lives from those who prefer too much food, too much booze and passive activities.
Nothing wrong with the occasional lazy day or splurge.
But as a lifestyle, those choices don't lead to many options late in life. This can split old friends in ways, in that how you choose to spend your time can limit how you enjoy each others' company.
The three of us could hike for good long times, find flowers and animal spoor and climb up hillsides without exhausting ourselves. That's the point. I love being around active, energetic people, because that energizes and motivates me. Not to prove a point about how much more in shape I might be, but that people who live active lives are a whole different kind of fun to be with.
I was inspired to write about this because of a comment a Medium writer shared with me about having friends visit her at her lake house. Most can't, she wrote, because to get to that lake house is a steep walk. If going up three stairs is too much for you, you can't visit that friend.
That writer, a woman, also shared that she went to a weekend house party in the high country. She hikes and kayaks. Of the other friends, one couldn't hike, the other couldn't kayak. The only shared activity was board games. Not her thing. Wouldn't be mine either. That would limit my interest in those folks. This doesn't say not be friends with folks who aren't involved with everything you are. It is more about what keeps us lively and interesting. Being healthy does that, because active equals healthier.
The other piece of this is watching our friends deteriorate from poor choices. While this most certainly allows for sheer bad luck, accidents or a predisposition to a given disease or three or four, better habits lead to better outcomes, and more choices later in life.
My Colorado friends have their share of issues. Delia is badly immune-suppressed, so Covid posed a real threat. However, she's otherwise very healthy, which in some ways helps ameliorate some part of the risk. Kevin had a serious accident a few years back, but his basic health is excellent and was back on his feet swiftly.
Most of us enter older age with some kind of issue or baggage from how we lived in our reckless and misspent youth (or whatever). It's truly rare that anyone makes it to extreme old age without some kind of illness or challenge. Even several. What we don't have to do is add far more difficulty to the aging process with bad habits.
Being active gives us energy, makes us interesting and fun to be with, and allows us to enjoy a broader variety of activities well into our very late years. You and I don't have to be able to kayak Class V rapids to enjoy a paddle. We don't have to be an Olympic level skier to enjoy the slopes. The point is to find something active and outside that we love, which feeds the heart, mind, soul, body and spirit.
Those who don't can end up being boring for one primary reason: old folks tend to spend way too much time talking about what ails them. The one and only dinner date I had with a man my age was centered around his recent colonoscopy. Over dinner.
WILL YOU PLEASE.
My mentor Meg, a lifelong athlete who died at 93 five years ago, made a passing mention one time and one time only about arthritis in her thumb. It was such a small mention that it hardly registered, except for the fact that she never spoke of physical ailments. I'm sure she had them, but she was too busy being an entrepreneur, hiking and doing her regular workouts and walks. I learned a lot about healthy aging from Meg.
Meg was sixty when I met her. For thirty-three years I watched her age but not age. It wasn't until her final two years that I noticed that she had slowed physically. She continued to be bright, engaging, funny and energetic. And then suddenly she was gone.
I'd like to go out like that. She taught me how.
Now at 68, it's my turn. People coming up watch how we age. They are either inspired or disgusted. We teach them by example. We show them who they might want to be, or who they most desperately do not want to be. How we age, how we behave as we age, how we engage as we age are all great teachers, not only to those coming up but also each other.
If you've got active friends, perhaps it's time to learn how to keep up rather than expect them to play board games which will often leave them bored. I sure would be. I'll take a paddle across a pristine lake any time over sitting on my butt all day. But that's just me. I like having options.
And no. It's not about who's in better shape. It's just about being in the best shape we can be for where we are in life. That takes effort, and effort always pays off.